Cinematic Scotland’s Brave Tour: Callanish Standing Stones

Callanish Standing Stones

Callanish Standing Stones

As Disney Pixar’s Brave comes to cinemas around the world, we take a trip to some of the Scottish locations that inspired the filmmakers.

Magic is a big part of Brave, though to say much more about how it affects Merida’s (Kelly Macdonald) fate would be to give away some of the film’s best moments.

One of the aspects of the film that we’ve already seen in the trailers is the stone circle which Merida finds herself in as she heads deep into the forest near DunBroch Castle. Being headstrong, Merida doesn’t take kindly to her mother’s demands on her and her escape on horseback is a thrilling one that showcases Brave’s animation to its fullest.

Concept artwork for Brave

Concept artwork for Brave

As part of their research for the film, Brave’s creators travelled far from their San Francisco HQ to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, to visit the Callanish Standing Stones, or Calanais in Gaelic. I did the same on my trip to Lewis, keen to see for myself what the place looked like.

Callanish Standing Stones panorama

Callanish Standing Stones panorama

It’s thought that the stones were constructed between 2900 and 2600BC, though nobody is entirely sure why they were put there. An ancient burial ground? A sports arena? Some form of church or other place of worship?

See the Callanish Standing Stones on YouTube

Local legend tells of giants who lived on the island and who refused to be converted to Christianity, leading to their being turned into stone as a result.

Approaching Callanish Standing Stones

Approaching Callanish Standing Stones

Looking into the stone circle

Looking into the stone circle

In total there are around 50 stones, with the 13 central stones surrounded by a longer passage to the north and more to the south, east and west, roughly in the shape of a Celtic cross. The stones reach up around 5 metres at their tallest and in the middle of the central circle there’s a small chambered cairn (see above) that juts out of the ground.

Between the Standing Stones

Between the Standing Stones

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the Callanish stones and it’s easy to see how the team behind Brave wanted them to be a focal point for the film. In the new book, The Art of Brave, producer Katherine Sarafian says of the stone circle in the film: “Their texture reminds you of the richness you see all throughout Scotland.

“They embody strength and ruggedness, and have an organic, rooted quality. They represent the visual richness of the film.”

Having watched Brave I’d say that the Callanish Standing Stones are the most tangible of its real-life equivalents, with the multiple castles used to design DunBroch and the many landscapes seen around Scotland much harder to pinpoint.

Even though I visited the site on a windy day, my camera buffeted as I tried to capture the impressive nature of the complex on film, there was something calming about the place, knowing that these stones had been here for thousands of years and that a bit of wind wasn’t going to bother them.

For the next part of the trip I’ll be visiting Dun Carloway Broch on the Isle of Lewis before heading back to the mainland.

Visit the Brave Tour section for more on the trip.

Visiting the Callanish Standing Stones

From Stornoway bus station, take Galson Motors bus no W2 to Calanais visitor centre (30 mins). Full details can be found on the Historic Scotland website.

Visiting the Isle of Lewis

The trip I took to the Isle of Lewis was with Rabbie’s Small Tours Groups, the five-day Escape to the Edge Tour, staying two nights in Stornoway, capital of the Western Isles with a night in Ullapool and Portree before and after.

Adult Prices: £275 – £295
Discount Prices: £255 – £275
Departing: Tuesdays (May to September)

Full details can be found on Rabbie’s Small Tour Group website.

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